Saudi Arabia Buys Two Tickets to ISS Aboard SpaceX Falcon 9

The Ax-1 crew with Expedition 67 crew members aboard the ISS.

The Ax-1 crew with Expedition 67 crew members aboard the ISS.
Photo: Axiom Space

Saudi Arabia has reportedly signed a deal with private space company Axiom Space to fly two of its astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the second privately funded trip to the orbital lab.

The two Saudi astronauts will fly aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, becoming the first Gulf country to ride on board a private spacecraft. sources told Reuters. The sources added that the deal between Saudi Arabia and Axiom was signed privately earlier this year.

NASA collaborated with private company Axiom Space to send the first all-private crew to the ISS in April, where the four crew members spent 15 days living and working in the microgravity environment. The space agency selected Axiom to launch the second private mission as well, which is scheduled to launch in the second quarter of 2023.

Retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is slated to lead the Ax-2 mission, while motorsport racer John Shoffner will serve as pilot. NASA has yet to approve the Ax-2 mission and its crew members, but the source told Reuters that this is very likely to happen.

Private space ventures tend to be reserved for the ridiculously wealthy, so it’s no wonder that oil-rich Saudi Arabia jumped on the orbital bandwagon. The Gulf country previously sent Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud to space aboard the American STS-51-G Space Shuttle mission in 1985, a trip that made the royal family member the first Arab and first Muslim to venture into space.

Companies like Axiom are making it possible for people across the world to take trips to Earth orbit, but at the hefty price of $55 million for each seat, these sojourns are not cheap. The company is also reaching out to other countries, having recently signed a deal with Türkiye (the country formerly known as Turkey) to transport the first Turkish astronaut to space on a future mission, the company announced this week.

NASA also stands to benefit from these deals, as the space agency seeks to establish a “robust low-Earth orbit economy” led by the private sector. NASA recently requested proposals for two more private astronaut missions to the ISS that could fly to low Earth orbit in late 2023.

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